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Pace thrills: What makes Jofra Archer and Jasprit Bumrah so endearing

The physicality of the act of fast bowling makes Archer and Bumrah so endearing.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Aug 22, 2019, 11.26 PM IST
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Jofra Archer has brought excitement to Test cricket with his easy action and exciting pace.
By Boria Majumdar

In October 2002, when I was a Ph.D student at Oxford University working on the history of Indian cricket, I got a call from an auctioneer in London. He had helped me with material and sounded very excited on the phone. “Come and see what I have found,” he said.

When I met him the next day, he handed a letter from former England captain Douglas Jardine addressed to Duleepsinhji, which said that Jardine had finally figured out a way to stop Donald Bradman and he wanted to discuss it with his premier batsman. On a meagre student stipend the letter was beyond me. But we do know what Jardine meant. He had planned to unleash Harold Larwood against Bradman, a plan that would bring his average to a mortal 56 in the series that was later christened Bodyline.

If Jardine had Larwood, Joe Root has Jofra Archer and Virat Kohli has Jasprit Bumrah. Men who run in rather languidly to throw the red cherry at real pace at gladiators standing on the other side of the 22-yard strip. Watching Steve Smith battle it out against Archer at Lord’s was one of the most exhilarating experience. And that’s where Test cricket pips every other format.

In limited-overs cricket, Archer is constrained by many factors. There is every chance of it being called a wide. It could take top edge and go for runs. Both scenarios could prove to be decisive in a close game. Not so in Test cricket. Even if a top-edge goes for six in a Test match, the bowler is the winner. He knows the batsman wasn’t in control and he may well have the last laugh in the duel. A batsman can’t just play out a spell like in white-ball cricket and breathe easy. He will be under scrutiny as long as the opposition captain wants him to be.

Fast bowlers bowling at real pace have always been among the most enduring sights of Test cricket. And to face them with skill is what turns a batsman into a legend. Sunil Gavaskar playing Malcolm Marshall with a skull cap and standing up to him in the Caribbean is his enduring legacy. More than his 10,000 Test runs, first and foremost it was his ability to play fast bowling and his ability to overcome fear that makes him a stand out cricketer of his time.

The same can be said of Smith and Kohli. To face people like Archer or Bumrah or Rabada isn’t easy. Just the thought of facing a 150kmph ball which can actually end your life is scary. And to be concussed and then come out is perhaps at one level foolhardy. Deep down, that’s what this sport is all about.

In all the serenity of the white dress and the lush green surroundings, it is a sport which is deeply violent and physical. In the split second between the delivery of the ball and hitting the bat, there is nothing gentlemanly. Rather, it is the most primitive and raw form of combat.

There is one winner and it is a no holds barred contest. With people waiting behind to catch the edge, the batsman is always under pressure. The slightest sign of discomfort will be pounced upon and taken note of. Bowling coaches watching closely will instantly send a message exposing the weakness. The bowler will push till the penny drops for that’s what the sport tells him to do.

The start of the World Test Championship has given this contest new meaning. Every Test match now played has a purpose and hence will throw up more of the Smith-Archer like contests. Yes, Archer felt bad for Smith and it is human to do so. No one wants to see a fellow human hurt and on the ground. To even think he was unsportsmanlike is to deny him the basic human trait of compassion. But with ball in hand, he is every bit entitled to doing it again. In fact, that’s what he is there for.

To bowl at 155kmph over after over is like running repeat 100-meter sprints. The extreme physicality of the act of fast bowling makes Bumrah and Archer so endearing. The extreme pace and the batsman taking evasive action makes the heart skip a beat when we watch it on television. Imagine negotiating this as a batsman.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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